By Mark Wehrman PGA Sports Columnist
Once again Big Sky Golf Course was happy to welcome the AJGA tournament back to town. The American Junior Golf Association is the gold standard for junior golf in the United States. For the fourth time in as many years we have hosted some of the best junior golfers in the country and, once again, the level of play did not disappoint. Not only did the scores impress but I am always amazed at the professionalism and poise that these young men and women display while competing at the highest levels.
The tournament itself is a 3-day, 54-hole, stroke play event. There are 24 girls and 54 boys with a maximum field size of 78 players. The majority of players are competing in hopes of getting a college scholarship, if they haven’t already signed a letter of intent.
For a few players it is all about the experience of competing at the highest level but for most players, playing in AJGA events has become somewhat of a career. They have traveled from long and far to Big Sky with one particular goal, to play well enough that their golf ability will provide them an opportunity for a higher education in the future.
Their families are spending thousands of dollars traveling to each event with hotel, fuel or plane tickets, meals, green fees for practice rounds, and entertainment costs accompanying each event they attend. Of course, these kids are playing with the best equipment on the market and wearing the latest in golf fashion trends. These are just some of the examples of how it has become a career for some kids and their accompanying families.
Some of the highlights from this year’s tournament included 12-year-old Angela Zhang, class of 2027, shooting an opening round 65 which was started off with a front 9 score of 29 that consisted of 5 birdies and an eagle. As mind-boggling as this is for someone that young to shoot those scores, also consider the fact that the overall winner in the girls’ division was only one year older, 13-year-old Gianna Clemente, class of 2026.
That’s right, of the 24 girls in the field, it was Clemente shooting rounds of 70, 66, 64, an AJGA 54-hole record, 16 under par. Not bad for someone that hasn’t been to high school yet.
In the boys’ division the competition was once again very tight at the top of the leaderboard.
The young man, Calder Overfelt class of 2022, who won with a score of 12 under par was actually not a part of the last groups to tee off that day. Instead, he put together a closing stretch of 3 birdies on his last 3 holes to shoot a 68 and finish one shot ahead of the leaders from the previous day. His finish and subsequent win were a testament to never giving up in competition even when you think you might be out of it.
It was also very entertaining to watch the last group finish as three players were tied for the lead with only one hole to play. After hole 18 was completed, only one boy was left standing as two of the players tied from the last group both faltered to allow the young man who finished much earlier “back-door,” his way to the win.
It truly was junior golf’s version of the Fed Ex Cup playoffs.
Lastly, I am always so impressed with the way these young men and women conduct themselves. Golf is a game of honesty and integrity, where a player often will call a penalty on him or herself, and it takes an individual who possesses these personal traits to succeed in golf, especially at the highest level. These kids are always very respectful of the facilities and staff that accompany them. They say please and thank you and show sincere gratitude towards the golf courses that host events for them to compete.
One final story I would like to share is a testament to how good the kids that participate in the AJGA event in Big Sky are. Two of the four winners from the past years event just finished in the top 10 in the NCAA National Championship this past spring at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. This just shows you how accomplished these young men and women are and that they are able to take their talents to the next level and not just compete but succeed. Big Sky Resort is proud to be a part of their golfing histories and we wish them all the best of success in golf, education, and life going forward.
Mark Wehrman is the Head Golf Professional at the Big Sky Resort Golf Course and is the three-time recipient of the RMSPGA Horton Smith Award recognizing PGA Professionals who are model educators of PGA Golf Professionals. Wehrman has also been awarded the RMSPGA Resort Merchandiser of the year.